Though horses will never be able to talk us, if we really pay attention, we’ll find that they do communicate in their own language. In fact, horses often let us know when they’re happy, when they’re irritated, and also when they’re in pain.
Unfortunately, many so-called behavioral problems in horses actually stem from pain. A horse may refuse to perform, become spooky, or develop a “bad attitude” when they are hurting. Learning to recognize the subtle signs of pain is important—that way we can seek to determine the underlying cause in order to help our horses however we can.
If you notice your horse frequently standing in a strange position, this is definitely indicative of pain. For example, these are common ‘pain’ stances:
- Camped under: usually indicates pain in the stifle, hock, or back;
- Rocked-back: usually indicates laminitis or toe pain;
- Toe-pointing: usually from pain in one foot or limb;
- Lowered head: could be a sign of pain anywhere in the body; and
- Continually shifting weight: could indicate pain in one or more hooves/limbs.
Your horse’s face can also tell you how they are feeling. Any of these signs may indicate pain somewhere in the body:
- Lowered ears (out to the side and floppy looking);
- Tightening around the eyes (often showing wrinkles above eyes);
- Teeth grinding (common with ulcers); and
- Tense facial/ jaw muscles.
If your horse continually looks at his stomach (usually in combination with other signs such as laying down, pawing, kicking at stomach, etc.), this is almost always an indicator of colic. It needs to be treated ASAP!
Although horses use the Flehmen response for a variety of reasons (usually in response to odors), it could also be an indicator of pain, especially if a horse is developing colic or is experiencing low-level gastro-intestinal discomfort.
Other Behavioral Changes
Your horse may also be experiencing pain of some kind if he suddenly displays new behaviors such as:
- increased periods of lying down;
- disinterest; or
- pinned ears.
Natural Pain Relief Supplements
If you notice any of the above signs of pain in your horse, having a veterinary evaluation is warranted. Colic is always a medical emergency, but other pain signs could be due to an ongoing issue. With aging horses, arthritis and/or deteriorating joints are commonly to blame. In cases such as these, using a natural pain relief supplement can be helpful. The Holistic Horse offers the following pain relief supplements:
MSM Ultra Pure Powder reduces inflammation and enhances circulation, helping with arthritis, epiphysitis, osteochondritis dissecans, and developmental orthopedic disease.
MSM Cream has the same pain-relieving benefits as the powder, only for use as a topical cream. Our MSM cream also contains essential oils with healing properties.
Su-Per® MSM Blend combines the natural anti-inflammatory properties of MSM and omega 3s in flaxseed, providing relief for many joint conditions.
Bjute Natural Pain Relief is an herbal alternative to bute that provides relief from pain and inflammation. Contains turmeric, white willow bark, and boswelia.